PEORIA, Ill. -- The hockey tournament is one of the highlights of the Olympics and inside the locker room of the Peoria Rivermen there are some very interested observers.
It was eight years ago. Rivermen Coach Jean Guy Trudel had been playing professionally in Switzerland when he was summoned to join a group of players training for the Canadian Olympic Team.
"There was a strike in the NHL. We were called the B-Team," Trudel said.
"A lot of guys that played in a lot of Spengler Cups with Team Canada and a lot of tournaments in Europe, they took 25 guys and they brought them to Edmonton. We practiced there at the Coliseum for four days and the fourth day Wayne Gretzky came in and said the guys weren't on strike anymore and they were going to the Olympics. So he kind of crushed our dreams a little bit."
Still, for four days Trudel was on an Olympic roster. Even though he never actually got to go to the games, as a Canadian he lived and died with that team.
"I got a lot of grief when I was in Switzerland because Switzerland actually beat the Canadian team in the preliminary round," he said. "I got a lot of grief from my buddies but I love it. I love guys giving it back to other guys."
Out here its already started.
"I'll hit you with a fact, Canada's just better than the U.S. There's no chirps involved, everyone already knows that," said Nick Prockow.
Pekin native Cole Ruwe recalls playing for a team that took that argument to the ice.
"We played all of the American guys versus the Canadian guys," Ruwe said. "There happened to be a few fights out there and things got stirred up. It's a pride thing from down here, even when we're not playing in it, to up there where the guys who are playing."
For goalie Eric Levine, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, loyalties will be split. You see, Levine is friends with, and a former teammate of, Radko Gudas and Ondrej Palat of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.
They are members of the Czech Republic Team.
"When you can get a text message from any of the players afterwards I think you become one of their new favorite fans," Levine said. "So I think any game outside of Czech versus United States, I'm rooting for Czech Republic."
Seems like everyone has a horse in this race.